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Highest-paid contractor said it can do curbside recycling when City of Jacksonville gives go-ahead

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The highest paid contractor for the City of Jacksonville says it is fully staffed and ready to go when it comes time to pick up curbside recycling, but has yet to start doing so.

“We are currently fully staffed,” said Meridian Waste COO, Mary O’Brien at a meeting with city council on Thursday, Jan. 20. “We have our recycling trucks we are ready to implement when the city asks us to move forward.”

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Meridian is the only contractor to be operationally ready in a market bogged down by labor shortages and money woes. Action News Jax Investigator Emily Turner asked the city who gives the green light for the resumption of services and why it hasn’t been given to Meridian.

The city never replied. O’Brien didn’t answer the question, either, only saying they “suspended recycling as of October 4, 2021 per the city’s request.”

In the meantime, people like Michael McNamara are angry they’re paying for a service they aren’t getting.

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“People want the recycling,” he said. “I mean, they’re willing to make the effort to come here and actually do this (drop off) when we’re paying to have it picked up.”

Meridian gets paid the most of any hauler. It also gets a six-month free pass on fines for missed pickups, of which there are 2,276 as of Jan. 11, 2022.

On top of that reprieve, Meridian also got a $2.8 million dollar boon in the form of a signing bonus of sorts. It was to help the company ramp up for a job it is only partially doing while still being paid in full.

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When asked about he accounting for that beginning bonus sum, O’Brien sent this: “At the City’s request, Meridian Waste was asked for an updated proposal for start up operational costs to begin the contract October 1, 2021 vs March 1, 2022.  This updated proposal included the short-term (6 months) lease of trucks from truck rental providers from across the country. More trucks were needed as we were forced to utilize trucks that were available even though they were not as large as our (permanent) trucks that we will service the City once our permanent trucks arrive and are in service. These rental trucks make up the $2.8 start up service agreement with the City. "

But at a city meeting earlier in the month, Solid Waste employees told Jacksonville City Council members that money also allowed Meridian to swoop in and steal staff from other contractors, effectively transferring the labor shortage from one company to another.

“They came in and crippled Waste Management,” said Will Williams, Chief of the Solid Waste Division, “So that’s why we are having issues with Waste Management.”

RELATED: The City of Jacksonville recycling breakdown

Waste Management is another of the contractors. Compared to Meridian’s $22.44 per premise per month rate, Waste Management, formerly Advanced Disposal, gets $9.88. Waste Pro is paid $13.11.

David Searcy with Waste Pro says that’s going to have to change.

“There’s a lot of things in the contract that’s going to have to get shored up,” Searcy said. “We need to get on a level playing field.”

The two lower-paid contractors are due for a rate review with the city in February. They have both indicated they plan to ask for a raise, meaning the $31 million dollar Solid Waste budget deficit will only climb higher.

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